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Date: 24 Oct 2014 11:54:06
Title: 33:03.45N 16:18.8W Porto Santo

Dear Family and Friends,

We had a rocky passage to the island of Porto Santo just north of Madeira. We would have liked to have gone straight to Madeira, given my dental situation, but there was no room in the marina so being in contact with our OCC port officer, Catia, she phoned the marina in PS and they phoned the only dentist on the island for an appointment. Both Catia and Nelson at the marina were brilliant, but at the time we were some 80+ miles away for an appointment at 10am the following morning. Having sailed where we could make a decent speed, when the wind strength and direction became unhelpful we had to bash through the swell under engine. I don’t think either of us got much sleep! But I was very glad we were under bear poles when the squall came through in the early hours of the morning, (my first) as the wind strength built very quickly, with the rain, to gusts of 30-36knots. Had we been under canvas I would have had too much sail up, making for very difficult handling. Now I have had a chance to think about what I would do for the next squall, I have a plan!

The last night, unlike those before it, was cloudy, the sea an impenetrable black, the sky a barely discernible at the horizon. Into this gloom one peers searching for the lights of oncoming shipping. Yes, we have AIS on our plotter but the cockpit repeater has a problem and needs regular turning off. AIS for those not familiar, allows us to see vessels transmitting their course, position and speed to other shipping, including most helpfully the vessels closest point of approach and timing, i.e., is it on a collision course! These are normally cargo vessels with restricted ability to change course at short notice, so prudently we avoid them. At night by the time you can see their lights, given their speed, you can have less than an hour to decide whether to change course. However tedious it sometimes is, you have to remain alert!

One thing that surprised me greatly, as we neared Porto Santo, in the early hours, it was incredibly warm. I am used to being well wrapped up. And the warmth continued into the day as we tied up and rushed off to the dentist. Nelson took us to the dentist and also collected us as the marina is a 20 min walk from the town, how nice was that. A more bizarre moment in the dentist! As we waited the TV was playing a dubbed version of the ‘Hairy Bikers’ travel cookery programme. There was even a TV screen in your face as you sat in the dental chair. Not so good news on the dental front, may have to have root canal treatment.

After a day recovering from lack of sleep, we caught up with Nick and crew aboard Winter, an OCC rally boat, and then yesterday we hired a quad bike to tour the island highlights. Given the heat this was a great way to see the island, cool when on the move, Alan did a great job of handling the beast of a bike, it did feel very heavy on the steering, for my part I managed with the aid of the tourist map, to get us very lost. When we eventually picked up the main roads things improved.

The island is volcanic with a mixture of sandstone and lava. Much of it less crumbly and deeply etched by water erosion, dry river valleys and gorges cut the landscape to the cliffs. Sadly when the island was first settled following Portugal’s claim to it, settlers came, cut down the forests and terraced the steep slopes, the remains of which you can still see. There is almost no agriculture here now, soil erosion leaving scrub grass and little else. Re afforestation is taking place, pine trees have been planted in deep trenches to capture the rain when it falls. There is a little horticulture, even gardens seem to grow little, a few vines but no oranges, lemons, olives, or nuts. For all this municipal and private gardens are green oasis, palms and pines, tropical flowers. I haven’t mentioned the municipal grass! We have come across it throughout Spain Portugal and now in the Madeira Islands. For such an arid area, it is luxuriously green, broad bladed and springy, neatly manicured green velvet! Amazing, and you are probably thinking what a horticultural nerd! Last words on grass promise!

We visited spectacular cliffs enclosing rocky beaches, man sized rock pools, volcanic peaks, admired wonderful panoramic views and walked through pine forest. As a sensory pleasure this is hard to beat, the warmth brings the sweet scent of pine, a stillness fills the air, with the clicking sound of ripening fir cones, small lizards slip between the rocks and we look down on the hawks soaring effortlessly over the valleys below us. Perfect! We went to places hard to get to by car and it was such fun. Th island has a relaxed air, the people are very friendly and helpful, a population of just 5,000, a Nato air base which virtually bisects the small island and limited development of holiday/housing complexes has left the character intact, but for how long one wonders. The island seems to depend on tourism in the summer months although it is still plenty warm enough now, it is probably the little brother to Madeira, yachts come here when they cant get a berth in Madeira and catch the ferry over and Madeirans come here for the long beach of golden sands.

We are now off to Madeira itself with the rally starting tonight, hope we make it in time, could be a close run thing! Winds are light so its on with the motor. Catch you later.

All our best, Lynne and Alan

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